My mother secured her Tennessee driver’s license at 14 years old. She was the first member of her family to learn to drive a motorized vehicle. She taught herself to drive by sitting in the truck with the engine off and “going through the gears” in mock fashion. She related to me that she “drove” that truck hundreds of miles before it ever moved an inch.
On a spring day, my grandfather announced to my mother, “We’re all going to Riddleton in the truck, and you’re driving.” Up until that day, she had never started the engine.
My mother climbed in on the driver’s side as my grandmother, Lena, climbed in on the passenger side. My grandfather refused to ride in the cab with them. He climbed in the back of truck and rode standing up the entire two-mile trip out of the Brim Hollow.
He wanted to be able to jump out if my mother ran off the road. She made the trip “without a bobble” and earned the role of designated family driver.
Her first long trip in the International truck, a model that featured tall, narrow tires mounted on spoke wheels, was to haul a load of spring lambs to Gallatin, a trip of 15 miles. My grandfather and Harold Law accompanied her on that trip.
As she drove west that day, she was preoccupied with threatening rain clouds. For that reason, she failed to slow down sufficiently when they crossed the railroad tracks on the east side of Gallatin. In telling the story, she said, “I hit the railroad tracks hard, and as I did, my riders looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, no.’” Their worst fears were realized as one of the truck tires blew out immediately. She pulled the truck to the side of the road, and my grandfather changed the tire for the spare.
When they arrived at the Gallatin stockyards, they unloaded the lambs. Then, they inspected the other tires. Two of the tires had knots on them “as big as goose eggs.” My grandfather took a deep breath and said, “Ya’ll wait right here.” He walked down the street and turned the corner out of sight. When he returned 30 minutes later, he presented one of the funniest sights my mother had ever seen. He had a tire hanging from each shoulder and two new inner tubes hanging down around his neck like a horse collar. She did not share with me the expression on his face. The tires were changed within an hour, and they headed home.
After that day, my mother never failed to slow down when she crossed railroad tracks.
My grandfather bought his second and last truck from Banks “Huck” Highers at Banks Highers’ Garage in downtown Dixon Springs on Aug. 11, 1950.
A still have a copy of the cancelled check.
It was an army olive green 1951 GMC 1/2-ton equipped with a four-speed floor shifter. The truck’s first gear was a “granny low” gear that made the truck crawl forward. It was geared so low it could have pulled down a barn. It was further equipped with a floor starter next to the accelerator. The headlamps were also controlled by a floor switch. The seat covers were made of tough brown leather-like material, the seats stuffed with springs and horse hair. It was a “narrow-bed” or step-side model, the bed floored with narrow oak boards encased in steel guides. The straight, six-cylinder engine made a chugging sound as it cruised down the road.
When the “new” Highway 25 was completed in the early 1960s, my grandfather had a fear of taking that route to Carthage. On two stretches of the highway between Riddleton and Carthage, nothing lay between the highway and the Cumberland River except newly constructed concrete barriers. My grandfather had a fear of driving into the Cumberland River.
But on a spring morning in 1963, Herod Brim pulled out onto Highway 25 in his 1951 GMC pickup truck and turned it eastward. Twenty minutes later, my grandmother received a telephone call at her house near downtown Riddleton. On the other end of the line, my grandfather’s excited voice announced, “Lena, I made it from Riddleton to Carthage in 13 minutes. Not only had he overcome his fears, he had set a new speed record.
If I had known then what I know now, we would have placed that 1951 GMC in an appropriate building and kept it in mint condition. But we had little idea at the time of things that would one day be dear to us. The carcass of that old truck, a relic of the past, now sits rusting away, too far gone to be revived.
But the thought of it brings it back alive, along with priceless memories of days gone by.
Jack McCall is a regular contributing columnist to The Lebanon Democrat.